An overdue “Hurrah”…

Well, this update is a little overdue as I have been busy on other things (largely working at my day job!), but better late than never – I am very pleased to say that my first two short stories are up online in e-book format and available to purchase. One of the stories is the result of my apple blog below, so read both if you would like to see where the idea for the story came from, or, the sort of path my mind travels down when I’m left alone in the kitchen.

I would be obviously delighted if you would buy a copy, and better still, leave a review. There’s two stories in the one e-book, The Copper Horse and The Orchard.

Special thanks to Matt Christie for the cover image (yes, that is yours truly on the front). Might I recommend his services to anyone looking for author shots or, just generally amazing photos.

More special thanks to House of Erotica for their help getting a new writer online, particularly Matt Bateman in the editing team who was totally amazing.

Happy reading..

Vina x

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An Ordinary Fruit

This week I was reminded of apples, by this lovely picture which Matt Christie took with his iPhone.

Apples run in packs. You bob in a bucket of them, or spoil a barrel of them, or buy a bag of them, or pick a bunch of them. Even when the devil tempted Eve with an apple, it came from a tree full of them.

On that same line of thought, thinking of one apple made me think of many apples, and, if you count this blog, I’ve written close to 15000 words about apples this weekend. And all of them ultimately sprung from the above picture.

Apples make me think first, of home. We always had apples. We didn’t have any apple trees that I recall, but nonetheless there was never a shortage of apples. My mother bought them from local orchards, and road-side stalls, or picked the ones that fell on the ground from neighbours’ trees and carried them home in her apron.

The apples sat piled in baskets or in buckets in the corners of our kitchen, great shining orbs taking the light from the window opposite and throwing it on the wall behind in strange mountainous shadows. One day when my mother wasn’t looking I snuck into the kitchen and took the brightest, shiniest apple that I could see, and with one sharp fright of a bite I discovered what she meant when she said that these were ‘cooking’ apples, not ‘eating’ apples.

We made all sorts of things from apples, most of which seemed to require me peeling an enormous number of them. My favourite was apple fritters, partly because they didn’t require peeling so many apples, partly because they were delicious, and partly because I liked the way that they were so perfectly round. I took great care to cut the slices perfectly, so that they were the same thickness all the way through, and also so that I didn’t send the apple flying off the chopping board and instead slice myself through the abdomen.

My mother made the batter by feel, slowly mixing the eggs, flour and milk until it was neither too thick nor too runny, but instead gathered slowly into thick droplets that ran ever so gently down the back of a spoon gathering more batter on the way like a snowball rolling down a mountain, then falling back into the bowl in a heavy enough drip to leave a soft dent in the batter below.

I’d dip the apple slices in the batter, and then place them ever so carefully in the pan, which by now would be just full enough of hot oil, oil which spat and hissed when invaded gently by a slice of battered apple. Then to watch the slices bob about until browned just so, dab them with a paper towel to soak up the excess oil, lay them on a plate and spoon a tablespoon of icing sugar into a metal sieve, bang it with a silver spoon, gently coat the hot slices. Never be tempted to add too much, to roll the slices in the sugar, no, because then it gathers on them in an oversweet sticky powderiness that masks the sharp taste of the apple.

And then, the inevitability of burning ones tongue, as the battered crust cools much quicker than the fruit inside.

Yes, fritters were my favourite. They were easy, beautifully symmetrical and fairly immediate.

My least favourite were the preserves.

Preserves were made always with the ugliest looking apples, the ones with knobbly bits and bruises and suspicious looking holes where worms might have burrowed. My mother would carry a bucket heaving with apples, and a board, and a stubby knife and a bag for the scraps to the table. “Please,” she’d say, “would you help me peel the apples?” And I wish I could tell you that I happily acquiesced, but I didn’t, I whined and moaned and complained plaintively about how tiresome it was, and how I might peel the skin off my finger, or touch a nasty creature that had crept into the bucket by mistake. So usually, she’d let me at it for a little while, whining and peeling, and then come and help me finish them off.

I hated every minute of peeling those apples. But I loved looking at the finished product. The peeled apples would be chopped up, and then spoons and spoons and spoons of sugar added, and spices, and the mixture would simmer on the stove, bubble and spit, even more dangerously hot than the hot oil. Boiling fruit has a particularly evil burn to it. The smell of apples would fill the house, an earthy sort of sweetness, usually with a touch of smoke as the fruit caught on the bottom of the pan. Then we waited for the mixture to cool, and spooned it into a haphazard array of jars, procured from rubbish bins and garage sales, sterilised and sealed with flat metal caps with a ring around the outside. And then the jars were put on the highest shelf in the pantry, to be eaten ‘later’.

For reasons that I didn’t fully understand, preserves were always things that were to be eaten later. We didn’t seem to ever run out of apples, and we certainly weren’t short on food, so it wasn’t as if we were pickling things to fall back on in case of a hard winter. We just weren’t allowed to eat them. This delayed gratification made me want them more, particularly as they were too high for me to reach. I’d stand in the kitchen with one hand resting on the door knob of each of the doors that opened to our pantry, and I’d open the doors just enough to peek inside, and I’d look up and stare at the rows and rows of apples in jars, all different sizes and shapes of jars, and the light would fall through the kitchen windows opposite, just a shaft through the pantry door, a lazy sunbeam that would light up the apples so that they sort of glowed up there, where I couldn’t reach.

Apples in jars were my first experience of ‘forbidden’ things that sit on top shelves. The booze wasn’t kept on the top shelf. We had an old house, without any safety latches on cupboards, and I was easily able to locate the sherry and all the poisonous cleaning products that a child might dream of experimenting with, but the preserved apples were kept out of my reach.

An apple was also at the centre of my first memory of feeling acute shame.

At my primary school, the teachers implemented a charity system where children with too much lunch were invited to donate items from their lunchboxes to children who didn’t have any lunch of their own. A teacher would walk around the playground at break times, carrying a red plastic tray in the manner of someone running a collection at church, and he or she would rattle the tray disapprovingly under the noses of the children who clearly had enough, to encourage them to give something up to the children who had too little.

I remember the red tray being thrust under my nose, and hoping the teacher would carry on by if I waited long enough, but he didn’t, probably knowing full well that my lunch box held two fat sandwiches made with proper bread and cut nicely into halves filled with perhaps thick slices of cheddar or left over lamb roast and homemade pickle, and wrapped in crisp white paper because I preferred it to cling film, and there’d be a tomato, a fat, juicy, tasty one from the man with the green house who my mother imaginatively referred to as the ‘tomato man’, left whole so that I could cut it myself, so the bread wouldn’t get soggy, and a tiny baggy with a pinch of salt and pepper, and a little snack box of raisins, and probably a fat heavy slice of cake, something dense, but not too sweet.

And, there’d be an apple.

Well, I felt sorry for the children whose mothers didn’t make them lunches, but, not sorry enough to part with any of my own. Eventually I felt shamed into contributing something, so I put my apple on the tray. But nobody took it. I listened to my one solitary fruit rolling lonely on that tray all lunch hour, abandoned in favour of bright bags of crisps and sweets. But I was too ashamed to take my apple back, even though I wanted to. And I was ashamed of myself, for wanting to.

You’ve probably surmised by now that I was a well-fed child. And you’d be right. It took me a few years to work out that just because something was delicious, didn’t mean I had to eat it all at once. A desire for immediate gratification is still something that I struggle with. I try to eat with my eyes wherever possible, in more than one sense, to avoid the negative side effects of over-indulgence.

My next memory of apples was the smell of one of my best friend’s apple scented perfume. I won’t write more about her here, because I haven’t asked her permission yet, and because I haven’t chosen her a fake name (suggestions welcome). She’s warmer than an Isabelle, not bookish enough to be a Harriet, and more glamorous than an Emily, but of that ilk. Her perfume came in a bottle shaped like an apple with a small silver leaf on the cap. I think of her, and her perfume, whenever I think of apples. I often think of buying that perfume when I walk through duty-free, but I never have, because it would be her smell that I would be wearing, and it’s not the same without her company to go with it.

Then, I have apple memories from the few seasons that I worked in an apple orchard. There, I tasted the sweetest and crispest apple that I’ve ever eaten. If I think hard enough, I can still feel the sharp bite of it, and the sweet juice of it on my tongue. But I won’t tell you the rest of that story now, because I’ve turned it to fiction, and so, you’ll have to wait until I’m done editing.

I have more recent memories of apples, too.

When my lover and I first started dating, he invited me to a dinner party he was hosting and he suggested that I pick up apples on my way, as well as wine. He asked for sweet cooking apples, and he made them into apple sauce, to go with pork.

There’s definitely a difference between the type of man who asks you to pick up apple sauce, and the type of man who asks you to pick up apples so that he can make apple sauce. Of course, if you were being cynical, you could say that we’d just started dating, and a man who wants to impress a date at a dinner party might make a sauce from scratch. But we’ve been dating a year now, and he still makes apple sauce from scratch. And when he eats apples, he doesn’t just bite into them. No, he gets a little white bowl out of the cupboard, and he takes a knife, and cuts the apple up into pieces, without any core. Then he eats the pieces one by one, taking a piece from the bowl, holding it between his thumb and forefinger, eating it in two or three bites, and then going back in for another piece.

He’s taken apple-eating one step further, by buying one of these peeling and coring machines

which you can see listed here as number nine on Stephen Fry’s top 100 favourite gadget list. My lover bought one for his father for Christmas, and he liked it so much that he bought one for himself too. The photograph at the top of the page is from the first apple he peeled with his new machine. If anyone reading this knows Stephen Fry, perhaps you could tell him that he inspired not just the eating and photographing of apples, but also an apple-based lesbian love story (coming very soon). I think he’d like that.

I am inclined to like a person who can forgo the heady lusciousness of more exotic fruit, the juiciness of a nectarine or the lusty redness of a strawberry or the plump perfection of a raspberry or the tropical tang of a pineapple, for something as straight forward as an apple.

Because as every good story teller knows, it’s the ordinary fruits that hold all the magic.

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A very short story about a man, a bicycle, and a sack of potatoes

Nearly seven years ago, I was walking down Smith Street, in Darwin (I haven’t just made that name up – you can see it on a map here) when I saw a man, pedalling down the street on a bicycle, carrying a sack of potatoes.

He wasn’t old, but he was heading towards being older rather than younger, perhaps in his sixties. He had that sort of agelessness about him that people have when they’re truly content and it matters not a fig what year they were born. The bicycle was the sort that people who like bicycling just for the sake of bicycling, and as a handy method of transport, ride. Silver, a little clunky, uprightly seated, with wide old fashioned mud guards, and a bell. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. He was riding confidently, at a moderate speed, with his right hand resting lightly on the handlebar and his left hand resting lightly on the sack of potatoes, which were somehow wedged up against the mudguard in a way that held them to the bicycle, but did not stop the back wheel turning. Perhaps he had used a clip or tie, which I couldn’t see. In any case, the thirty pounds or so of potatoes did not seem to be in any way an impediment to his journey. The sack was hessian, reminiscent of days when everything you could buy in a store came in a sack. His face was a picture of a simple sort of happiness. Not ecstatic, nor radiating joy, just, happy. I thought to myself, as he pedalled by, that there is a happy man, a man who is happy to be bicycling, and even more so, a man who is happy to be bicycling with a sack of potatoes.

I’ve been thinking about this man ever since I watched him cycle by. I’ve thought about him at least once a month, sometimes once a week, for nearly seven years. I have wondered, where did he come from? Where was he going? Why was he happy? And what was he going to do with his sack of potatoes? This week, a number of happy things have happened to me, and one of those things, was that the answer to all of those questions arrived suddenly inside my head. I might tell you more about my other happy happenings later, but for now, I’m going to tell you the very short story of the man, the bicycle and the sack of potatoes.

He was happy, because he’d just had his favourite breakfast, with his favourite person in the world.

At first, I thought, it might have been his lover, but then I realised, it was his daughter. She’s young, nearly thirty, and she makes him happy because she is beautiful, and full of light and love.* She has thick dark hair which she never cuts, and it frames her face like a river. She wears a red beret, even though it’s hot, because she’s just bought it, from a market stall by the sea, near Smith Street. Her breakfast is a stack of flap jacks, nearly as tall as the ketchup bottle on the table between them, covered in blueberries, banana and maple syrup. She asked the waiter for a lemon, and then another lemon, and she’s squeezed them both over the top as thoroughly as if she were wringing out dish cloths, to get every last bit of juice out, because she likes things to be sour as well as sweet. She adds more sugar, a heaped spoonful, because now her flapjacks are not sweet enough. She drinks peppermint tea. He drinks coffee, with cream, and he eats porridge, because this little cafe by the sea with the red table cloths that match his daughters hat is the only place he knows of that makes porridge properly, slowly and gently with untampered oats and just a touch of honey served in a big, deep, thick white bowl, and properly made porridge is a wonderful thing. His daughter’s name is Rose, and he loves her more than anything, even though she looks exactly like her mother, and they don’t speak anymore.

He cycles to meet his daughter for breakfast, even though it’s October, the month that fills the space between the end of the dry season and the start of the wet season in Darwin, and it is likely to get very hot, later in the day. He doesn’t mind the heat, he’s lived in Darwin nearly all his life, and you do get used to it. He doesn’t own a car, and he doesn’t like being cooped up on a bus (the air conditioning is too cold, and it makes his skin feel dry). He likes to feel the air on his face. The air in Darwin is thicker than elsewhere, it carries with it the sort of feeling you’d get if someone ran past you very quickly holding a warm blanket. A bit like the feeling you get walking into the bathroom after someone has just had a shower, but, add a gentle wind, to sweep the heat across your face. The sky is a clear blue, the sort of blue that’s so bright and sharp it could slice all of the clouds in the world in two, and the sea is ringed with palms, and in this heat, it’s as inviting as a post card, but impossible to swim in, because it’s full of all manner of creatures that kill you.

Because the day is set to start so well, with a bicycle ride and breakfast with his daughter, it seems sensible to spend the rest of it doing all of his favourite things, to have a truly, happy day. So he plans to make his favourite dinner later, two fried eggs – a gift from his neighbours chooks – runny in the middle, the white, even, still a little loose, which disgusted his daughter’s mother, she’d only ever eat them hard-boiled. A pile of home-cooked chips on the side, thick cut and thoroughly salted. A handful of tomatoes from his garden, cut in half, and he’d bloody well eat them whether they were perfectly ripe or not, because he’d been trying to grow the damn things for years.

He buys the potatoes in a hessian sack, on his way home, from the Lithuanian man with the name that no one in Darwin can pronounce who runs the fruit and vegetable store near the cafe by the sea, for the same reason that he likes to ride a bicycle. He likes the feeling of things, and in the supermarket, everything is wrapped in film, and there, he can’t get hold of the feeling of things. He likes the touch of the weave, the half soft, half scratchiness of the hessian, and the weight and the feel of the potatoes that threaten to burst out of the sack when he picks it up and holds it against him. Potatoes that come in sacks are proper potatoes, potatoes that taste of something, potatoes that make good chips.

He cycles home with the potatoes, and has a nap, when the heat is at its hottest. He spends a little time in his garden, wrestling with the tomatoes. His daughter teases him about the garden, she’s a florist, from the moment she was born things just seemed to grow near her, but without her in the house the garden is always a little bedraggled. He just grows vegetables now, not flowers. Though very few things come out of the garden just as they’re meant to, wrestling with it is one of his greatest pleasures, the feeling of the dirt on his hands and the leaves that brush his skin, and the eating of things that don’t come wrapped in film, or even in a sack.

After the garden, he makes his tea, and then sits on his chair on the porch and eats it, facing the vegetable garden, a cold beer in one hand and a book in the other. He’s reading ‘Vanity Fair’, by William Makepiece Thackeray. Then, he continues to sit and smile to himself as he’s had a very good day, and he doesnt remember, even for a moment, the girl who stood and watched him cycle down Smith street with a hessian sack of potatoes, nor will he likely ever know how happy she was seven years later, when, during the middle of a very good week, on the other side of the world, whilst she was walking down Bishopsgate, near Spitalfields, carrying several bags in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, she finally realised why he was happy and where he was going with his sack of potatoes.

— THE END

Sorry guys, I tricked you, it turned out to be not so very short at all.

*A nod to the marvellous Miss Rubyyy Jones, Mistress of all things Love and Light.

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Circus

Originally written and performed for After Pandora.

It’s not every day you meet a man who can suck his own cock.

Bob had been a contortionist in his youth, until his body gave up, leaving him with just enough strength and flexibility to function like a completely ordinary person, and also to self-fellate. Now he manages his own circus, and gives himself blowjobs back stage. That’s how we met.

I was 17, I’d just left school, and Bob’s Strangely Magical Show was passing through town. I’ve always loved the Circus. Partly of course, it’s the lights, the smell, the thunderous applause, just the sheer joy of it all. But also, for me it was a place where it was okay to be weird.

I come from a small town. Two main streets, two pubs, five churches, 60% retirees and 40% people who wished they’d left but hadn’t managed it. I never felt as though I belonged. Even when I got out of town, drove into the city, I still didn’t belong. City people seem just like country people to me, only moving faster. The circus though – the circus is full of people who don’t belong. And that’s why I like it.

The show had finished, and I was poking around backstage, when I saw him. He was in a sort of headstand pose, with his arse in the air and his knees resting on the floor over his head. I realised, after a few seconds, that adopting this pose enabled him to suck his cock, which was exactly what he was doing, with noisy exuberance, his balls slapping wetly against his face. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and having paid a fiver to watch a Strangely Magical Show, I rather forgot that this wasn’t part of it. Feeling entirely entitled to the view, I crept closer. And, with all the natural finesse that I was born with, I tripped straight over a pile of rigging that one of the aerialists had left out, and fell full length nearly on top of him.Bob leapt to his feet like he’d been shot out of a cannon, grabbing my hand and pulling me up with him. He looked me straight in the face and said “you’re one of us, aren’t you,” and from that moment on, I was.

He gave me a job in logistics, and I’ve been here ever since. Bob’s not his real name, incidentally. It’s how he discovered the innate flexibility in his spine. Bobbing for apples.

Even after five years in the circus, I haven’t developed any special talents. I’m not fearless, like the aerialists, or flexible, like the contortionists, or strong, like the acrobats, and I don’t know any magic tricks. I did work briefly as the Magician’s Assistant, but I gave it up because he’s a total cunt. Sometimes, I wonder that I don’t fit in here either. Sometimes, feel like I’m not normal enough for the rest of the world, but not quite strange enough for the circus. But, there is one thing about me that is a little freakish.

I like to watch. No, no, not the show, although that’s great too. I like to watch the performers, after the show. I watch them getting dressed. I watch them getting undressed. I watch them making love. I think they know, you know, I think each and every one of them have caught me at it at some point. And it’s not peeping, is it, if they know. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m a pervert.

There’s some people, that I like to look at more than others. There’s this girl, well, woman really. She’s an aerial hoopist. You know, she does acrobatic moves hanging from a giant hula hoop that floats in mid air. She’s one of the few performers who performs alone, instead of in a duo or troupe. Doesn’t mix much. And she always wears a full, bathing suit style costume, always lightly coloured, a pale metallic silver or gold. Most of the other girls, they wear eye popping outfits, frilly knickers and bra sets, sequins, all trash and flash, sex and sass. At first, I thought, maybe she doesn’t really like herself. Women are like that, even gymnasts and dancers, especially gymnasts and dancers. But she had a certain strut to her, a jut to her jaw, a quiet confidence that made me curious. That’s why I wanted to watch her.

I was in the dressing room one night, changing after the show, when she came in. She didn’t see me. I hugged the shadows, partially obscured by costumes. She stood directly in front of the full length mirror, right under the only spotlight in the room, about five feet in front of me. The air was thick, and hot, maybe it was just me getting nervous, but I swear you could have served a slice of it on a saucer with tea.

She was short, about five foot two, tiny. She was strong and lithe, but oddly, for someone who did so much work with her arms, lifting herself around the hoop, she had a very slight top half, almost no breasts at all. From the waist up, she could have been a twelve year old boy. But she wasn’t tiny all over, she had a small waist, and then her hips jutted out abruptly, and she had thighs like the flanks of a pony. Her bottom was solid muscle, but much larger than you might expect. The small of her back curved into her arse like a ski jump.

Her complexion was utterly pale, and again, unlike the other girls, the acrobats and the dancers, she didn’t use fake tan or bronzer. Her skin was the colour of milk with a drop of cream, it glowed. Her hair was slicked back in a very tight bun, that made her cheekbones seem higher, like a cat. She stared at herself in the mirror for what felt like an age, and I stood soundlessly behind her, watching her from the back, and the front. Then she locked eyes with me, in the mirror.

She’d seen me, for sure, but she didn’t look surprised, or disturbed, or disgusted, or frightened. She met my eyes in the mirror, and then hooked a thumb through the top strap of each arm of her suit, and then she slowly pulled it down, right the way to the floor, and then kicked her suit away, and stood naked in front of me, still meeting my eyes in the reflection. She wore a look that said, ‘go on, look, drink it all in, swallow me up’. She had the smallest breasts I’d ever seen on a woman, barely even a bulge, but she had enormous aureole. The effect on someone so flat chested was beautiful, in its unexpectedness. She had tiny, totally erect nipples. I wanted to touch her, but I didn’t. There wasn’t more than two or three arm lengths between us, but it felt like a chasm, the distance between one possibility and another.

So I didn’t move. But she did.

Not towards me, though she continued to look at me, right in the eyes. She ran one hand from the space between her breasts down to the space between her legs, and she began to masturbate. Well, if I’d thought there was tension in the air earlier, now it fairly crackled. You could have popped corn on the heat between us.

She was moaning now, and under the bright spotlight, I could see the moisture glistening on her fingers as she played with herself. I began to do the same, but I couldn’t keep up with her. She was standing at a slight angle to the mirror, and holding her left leg over her head. She had at least four fingers in her vagina, and then, I think her entire fist. She continued to penetrate herself, until she nearly doubled over, her face clenched in orgasm. As she came, she gushed. A stream of liquid burst out onto the mirror and over the floor. Then she lifted her hand, looked at me in the mirror again, and slowly licked her fingers. And then she gathered her clothes, and left.

As she pushed the door open to go, she turned, looked me straight in the eyes, and grinned.

“Welcome home,” she said.

***

Note from the writer – this is the first thing I’ve ever written for the purpose of reading aloud. That’s why it’s short, and also, why it reads sounds more like a monologue than a story.

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Where Ideas Come From

Maybe someday, someone will ask me where I get my ideas from. But just in case they don’t, I’m going to tell you now.

I have a hat. An ideas hat. It’s a Top Hat, the proper sort, old and dusty. It has a purple lining, torn in parts from frequent wear. Occasionally I put a yellow ribbon around the brim, but mainly not. The hat is invisible, other than to other invisible-hat wearers. Even then, they can’t really see the hat, just a bit of a hatty gleam, or a flash of yellow from the ribbon, if it’s there. Ideas come out of the hat. Ideas are rabbit shaped, that’s why they like to live in hats. I don’t wear the hat indoors. I put it on the mantelpiece, and I watch, and I wait, and I hope, to see the first peek of an idea, just the flicker of a tip of a long white ear, come out of the hat.

Ideas are very shy, though sometimes, they pretend not to be. Their favourite time for coming out of the hat, is when I have absolutely no way at all to catch them. That’s when the most spectacular ideas appear. These are the big, fanciful ideas, the ideas that wear purple tail coats to match the hat. They like to come out when I’m stuck on a busy train carriage, with my arms glued to my sides and no way at all to reach a pen or the latest electronic recording device and pin them down. These ideas are all flash and sass, all disco dance and last hurrah, they turn tail and disappear the moment I try and catch them, and they never look as shiny again, even if I manage to convince them to come out a second time.

Their second favourite time for coming out of the hat is at about 3am on a Tuesday, just as I’ve almost won a war with sleep. Just as I’m drifting off, I’ll hear a little sneeze, a little wheeze, from the hat. And if I listen, and look, I might see the end of an ear poking up, the flick of a whisker, the flash of a tiny pink nose. This is the time to be very gentle with the idea. I must not, under any account, startle her, or she’ll be gone like a flash. Now I have two options. I can either sneak up on the idea, and grab her unawares by the ears and hold her, kicking, tightly to my chest until she surrenders, or, I can coax her out. Coaxing is the better option, as ideas tend to lose their wits when they’re overly frightened and then they’re no good to anyone. I forget my war with sleep. Peel back the covers gently. Approach the hat with care, extending one hand in a ‘here, my nice little rabbit’ gesture. It helps to have a snack handy. 3am ideas prefer biscuits, and candied almonds. 6am ideas prefer peppermints. I do not, under any circumstance, try to feed her with liquor, as a drunk idea is hopeless, and even more hopeless, is an idea with a hangover. Ideas like to feel like they mattter. So, the more trouble that I have gone to to catch her, the more likely she will appear. It helps then, to be cold, rumpled and sleep deprived, as she might take pity on me.

Now I’m in for a treat. Once she’s sniffed my hand, eaten her snack, and is sitting calmly in the hat so that I can properly see the shape and the colour and the size and the smell of her, then I can reach in and gently lift her out. Ideas like to be petted. She will want to keep me up all night, being petted, and fed snacks, and having sweet nothings whispered into her ear. Come morning, she’ll be back in the hat.

Ideas also like the company of other ideas. If I can’t get my idea to come out of the hat, then I take the hat out with me. Ideas are very fussy. They all like to congregate in the same places. Don’t think, even for a minute, that I’m taking my idea for a walk. Oh no. She has me on a ribbon, all of her own. The best places for ideas are sunny, with soft couches, cushions and free wifi. They will make good coffee, and sell cookies the size of space ships. My idea will not let me free, until she has me fat, broke and brimming with caffeine. Then she will take me home again and keep me up all night, leaping in and out of the hat.

She is my mistress. And I’m afraid that there’s nothing I can do about that. I tried ignoring her, burying the hat under a pile of bills and laundry. I tried to forget her by spending all my free time buying books from the business section and shopping for matching towel sets in Ikea, but then the idea stopped showing up, and I missed her, dreadfully. So, I got the hat out again. For a long time, it just sat on the mantelpiece, not even a whisker of an idea appeared. The inside of the hat was as dusty as a dry bone. Then I realised, that I’d become a Grown-Up, and ideas are afraid of Grown-Ups. Our shadows are too tall and dark. Ideas prefer children, they’re more playful. And shorter.

Ideas have a hive mind. They talk to one another. If you lose one, then you risk losing them all. So, I decided that to get the ideas back, I must never ever do laundry. Or open my bills. Or let on any hint of a day job. It helps to wear clothes that Grown-Ups shouldn’t wear, like corduroy, and extra long socks. A shirt and tie has the power to vanish an idea forever. If I suspect that my idea might think I’m a Grown-Up, then I put the hat on, and dance a little jig. The more often I do this, and the more ridiculous the dance, the more ideas pop out of the hat. The dancing makes them a little dizzy, but they’re easier to catch that way.

The best ideas, are not always the prettiest. Oh no. I meet some ideas, that are sleek, and bright-eyed, with tails as perfectly round and sweet as a dollop of vanilla ice cream on a hot day, but they just sit in the hat and enjoy being admired, and they refuse to make way for other ideas. The best ideas, are the old, mottled ones. The ones that have been ignored for a long, long time, patiently waiting to be noticed. They’re the ideas that stuck around when I was too tired to play, that waited for me to grow weary of the business section and the matching towel sets. They nuzzle me awake in the mornings with wet noses and soft paws and big, happy eyes that light up when I’ve seen them at last. These are the ideas that have been waiting for me all along, I just didn’t know it.

And that’s where I get my ideas from.

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Of Luxembourg and Lesbians

Do you ever feel as though you’re holding a memory which is so precious, so important in some unidentifiable way, that to share it with anyone – to even write it down – would somehow risk having the mysterious joy of it disappear like a thief into the night?

Today I have been thinking about women, and thinking about women has made me remember a story which I have never told in full to anyone. Not to a single soul. But I am going to share it with you, Internet reader, even though it feels like a tiny bird resting on my shoulder that might dart away and never return if I move a muscle.

Here goes.

I met her after a University party, a few months before I turned twenty one. The party had an ‘International’ theme, and I went dressed in an outfit vaguely reminiscent of the Luxembourg flag, in a bright blue halter neck top, red mini skirt and long white earrings, although I am not from Luxembourg. I was on a depressing sort of diet, and the red mini skirt was nearly too big for me. It sat low on my hip bones threatening to drop off at any moment, which I rather enjoyed. The skirt was lined, and a deep red, with a slightly furry texture, almost like velvet. It featured a wide waistband and one large red button that sat on the right side. I’ve never owned a skirt I liked as much since.

At about eleven pm we walked into the city centre – one hundred or so drunken University students and I. We argued about which bar to go to, and pretending that I had drunk more than I had, I suggested the local gay and lesbian bar, as if it was an enormous joke. What larks! As if there was no question at all that any one of us might have, in fact been gay. Once we got inside, I found a way to ditch my friends. I think perhaps, by hiding in the toilet (where I had an interesting experience with a man I met at the urinal which I might share in another post).

She was standing next to me at the bar as I ordered a drink, and I am afraid that I can’t remember at all what she was wearing because I was too arrested by her face and her smell. She was about the same height and the same age as me, perhaps slightly smaller of build – very petite. She had short, dark brown hair cut in a bob which I thought was very chic, French. She smelled the way that girls tend to smell, which was new to me then, being that I’d always kept what I thought was a socially correct distance from women.

She smelled of perfume and hair products and make-up of course, though to me it was more like almonds and sweet jam and honey and cinnamon, all the sorts of smells that make you want to stand still and inhale without interruption from any other sense. Just the sight of her made my heart skip in a way that I hadn’t felt about anyone before. I’ve used this metaphor already, but I’m going to use it again – my chest thrummed as though a tiny bird was trapped there, beating its wings furiously.

To my surprise, she spoke. She asked me if I was alone, why I was there, had I been before, how did I feel about it. We both surprised each other by being there for the same reason. “I’m straight,” she said, “but I wondered what it was like”.

“I’m straight too,” I replied immediately, and she nodded, “of course.”

I bought her a drink. That’s what boys do, isn’t it, when they fancy someone? She suggested that we find a table to sit, somewhere quiet, away from the men, who we had decided were also straight and had come to a gay bar to hit on straight girls who went to gay bars to escape the attentions of straight men (of course).

I followed her to the far corner of the bar, away from the crowd, and she shimmied into a booth. In a sudden moment of confidence, I shimmied in after her, so that we were sitting side by side. We weren’t touching, but I was as aware of her presence as you might be aware of a current whilst standing very close to an electric fence.

Eventually, she said the inevitable.

“I’ve always wondered what it would be like, to kiss a girl.”

I nodded in agreement. Of course I had wondered, too. I spent a good part of my day masturbating in the University toilets between lectures, wondering.

We decided it would be the thing to do, to try it, just the once, to see what it was like.

Kissing her was like the moment when, as a child, you first taste candy floss. It was as though the whole world had fallen away, and I was floating in space with nothing to anchor me other than the sensation of softness and the taste of her lips.

We broke away eventually, and agreed that kissing a girl was quite good, but perhaps it had just been the shock of it, and we should try it one more time, just to be sure. It was just as good the next time, and the next, and the next, and we sat there in that booth kissing for a very long time. Long enough to attract a crowd of men, some of whom in fact did appear to be interested in women. Or at least, they were interested in us.

She exclaimed that I had the nicest lips she’d ever kissed, and offered me up to someone. “You have to try her,” she said to one of the men watching us, and I blushed, flattered, and protested that she, in fact had much nicer lips than I, and was surely the best kisser of the two of us. One of the men, or perhaps all of them, suggested that the only fair test would be for him to kiss us both and then offer his unbiased opinion. This seemed an excellent solution, and we each kissed him in turn. He said that we were both such lovely kissers, he couldn’t be sure who was the loveliest, and that perhaps his friend could assist by offering his opinion also.

The crowd of men around us became bigger and bigger, and between the interruption of each new man’s kiss we carried on kissing each other. Every time I touched her, the rest of the world disappeared and I felt as if we were entirely alone. I’m not sure how many men I kissed, but it was enough to pass the time between about midnight and four in the morning when the bar began to close. We were still surrounded by interested onlookers when the bar manager came over and told us that if we stayed and had sex on the table that we were sitting beside he’d give us both free drinks for the rest of our lives.

She reached over and laid a hand lightly on the inside of my leg. It was the first time we’d touched, other than on the lips. “Come back to mine,” she whispered in my ear. And we got up and left, the sound of disappointed sighs following us all the way out the door.

I wish I could tell you that we went back to her house and fucked each other royally. But we didn’t. Somehow leaving the bar, the shock of cold air, the normal-world physicality of finding her car (which she was undoubtedly too drunk to drive), getting into it, biding time waiting for the drive to be over and realising the sun had almost come up and we were both nearly sober again stopped us in our tracks. It was as if someone had walked in and flicked the light switch on, stealing our secret away.

I wanted to touch her, but I felt as though my arms were pinned to my sides, as if someone had snuck up behind me and trapped me in a plaster cast. I had not the slightest idea what to do with a woman. It reminded me of the first time I’d tentatively tried to give a man a blow job, and realised that I wasn’t sure whether to suck or blow (I’ve always been hung up on semantics).

We made awkward, idle chit chat, and she offered to lend me some pyjamas. I politely averted my eyes as she undressed and then dressed again beside me. She wore a pair of cotton pyjama shorts, pale blue with red cherries on them, and a matching red singlet top. She had very small breasts. She had a tattoo on her lower back, two cherries. She told me that she wasn’t really sure why she had a thing for cherries, she just liked them. I thought that they suited her perfectly, small and sweet and perfectly formed.

She lent me her winter pyjamas, and she watched me change into them. “God, you’re small,” she said, and I felt a thrill of half pleasure and half denial at what I perceived to be a misplaced compliment. She was small, I thought, not I. Silly, really. We most likely both looked very small curled up in bed together. She had a small room, and a small double bed, and despite that we both managed to lay next to each other with plenty of room between us and on either side. I lay beside her wide awake for all that was left of the night and the morning, wondering what would happen if I just stretched an arm out and brushed her skin.

She drove me back to my halls of residence the next day, and neither of us gave the slightest hint to the other that the previous evening had ever happened. She asked me what I was studying, and I asked her what she did for work, and we both remarked that we were hung-over and must have been terribly drunk.

She let me out of the car and I waved goodbye and never saw her again.

I thought about her, often, for years. Every time I saw a small girl with a short bob in a bar, or at a party, my heart would race and I would stare closer to see if I could spot a cherry tattoo. But I never did. I still think about her now, though less often. There’s only been two or three people since, who have made the world fall away with a kiss.  

I’ve only just this minute realised that she didn’t tell me her name.

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Notes on Voyeurism

I’ve always been a voyeur. As a child, I was teased in the swimming pool changing rooms for lingering a look too long on the bodies of others. “Lesbian!” the other girls cried. No, I wasn’t a lesbian, or at least not entirely, for I like to look at the bodies of men too. All kinds of bodies. Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, small ones. I like bodies. I like bodies as they appear in the flesh, and I like bodies as they appear in the media, in all the various guises that we’re subjected to. Page three girls, the ‘real’ women of Dove commercials, celebrities, politicians, royals and their respective husbands, wives and girlfriends. I love pictures of Michelle Obama, and I wouldn’t say no to Barack if he came knocking at my bedroom door, either. Always had a soft spot for Bill Clinton. Not so keen on David Cameron, though I do like Sam Cam.

When I was 18, I walked in on my first serious boyfriend reading a porn magazine. I had come home from work unexpectedly early, and pulled the bedroom door open to find him on the bed, one mag in hand, and a box full resting on the floor beside him. Not a shoe box, but rather the sort of box that you would pack small items of furniture into when moving house. A big box. Absolutely chock full of porn. He had a thing for ‘real people’, so most of the magazines were of the ‘Readers’ Wives’, or ‘People’ variety.

A trio of emotion flashed across his face, a combination of horror, fear, and ‘maybe if I act cool she won’t notice’, nonchalance. This abruptly changed to surprised pleasure, when he realised that not only did I ‘not mind’, that he read porn, I was thrilled to bits to have a collection available for my own consumption. Three days later, when I was still glued to the contents of the box, he became disgruntled that I had abandoned him in favour of ‘Busty Miss August, 1999’. I can still remember my favourite scene from those magazines, a woman dressed in army uniform, her picture taken in various pornographic poses down a main street which I imagined was full of the gaze of ordinary passers by, though it was likely an on-set recreation.

Some years later, when I was still too embarrassed to buy porn, a friend (who thought the whole thing was hilarious), leant me his copies of Penthouse Black magazine to read each month after he’d finished with them. I didn’t like the pictures in those so much. They were nice enough, but there was no story to them. I preferred the gritty realism of more amateur models, or some of the more frankly sexual shots in magazines that weren’t aimed at ‘Gentleman’ readers. I’ve been told by more than one friend and several lovers that I think like a man – that might be true, but I certainly don’t think like a Gentleman.

In more recent years my proclivities have changed, whether by design or by accident, I’m not entirely certain. Now, I find myself interested in the people who look at people, rather than doing the looking myself. In the creative circles that I tend to run in, of a weekend, I meet photographers and artists often. I’ve seen some of them work, and rather than watching the models (though they are lovely), I like to watch the photographers. I watch how they become almost a part of their camera, how they go into a strange sort of creative space, in the same way that dancers and performers do on the stage.

Similarly, when I watch a cabaret, I find myself watching the expressions of the audience rather than the performers. When I’m on the tube, I watch the men watching the women (or the women watching the men, or the men watching the men, or the women watching the women, but men watching women tend to be the most obvious about it, perhaps because that’s the most socially accepted combination).

I have admitted before that most of my characterisation comes from people I see in the street, on buses, in cafes, etc. Last week, I was in one of my favourite cafes, the Happy Kitchen in Hackney (try the jungle porridge, it’s amazing), getting started on some new erotic fiction. I was surveying the other patrons, looking for realistic descriptors to use in my writing, when I spotted a girl with a sketch book. She had the look of someone who, strictly speaking, knows they’re up to no good, and she was so absorbed in her sketch that she didn’t notice me watching.

From where I was standing, queuing up at the counter for another cup of coffee, I could see her sketch, and the direction of her gaze. She was drawing a couple sitting a few seats down from her, who were entirely unaware that they were being drawn, and entirely unaware that I was watching their artist. That made me realise – I have become not just a voyeur, but a voyeur of voyeurs. And I wonder what that means for my writing. If I’m writing about voyeurs of voyeurs, what does that make you, reader? A voyeur of voyeurs of voyeurs? (feel free to note your opinion in a comment below).

Stay posted to see if you recognise the girl with the sketchbook, when she appears in my writing. She’s there, I promise.

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